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That Mama: Heart Surgeon, TV Star, Podcaster and Preschool Mama Dr. Carolyn Lam

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This month’s That Mama is leading heart surgeon Dr. Carolyn Lam!

Our popular That Mama series is all about introducing our readers to inspiring and entrepreneurial mamas in Singapore; this month’s mama, Dr. Carolyn Lam, is one of those women who is seemingly so perfect and accomplished you almost can’t stand it — except that she is also incredibly warm and lovely! Just take a peep at the super adorable photos with her husband and 3-year-old son, Kuan, and it’s evident what a happy, loving family they are. We also had such a wonderful time speaking with Carolyn and learning about the different facets of her highly accomplished career — as Director of the Women’s Heart Health Clinic, she is dedicated to improving women’s health in Singapore and worldwide. She further empowers both women and men through the popular TV show “Body & Soul”, and delves further into medical topics with her podcast, Circulation on the Run. And on top of all that she’s also a Professor and Researcher at Duke-NUS (fun fact: she wrote and defended her PhD with her infant son in tow!). Read on to be truly amazed, mamas!

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?

I am the proud mommy of a Blasian boy (no, I didn’t perm his hair), the happy wife of the Man Of My Dreams and a devoted clinician researcher – that’s the blend between doctor (cardiologist) and scientist (clinical trialist)… perhaps better recognized as the Resident Doctor on Body & Soul (TV series) and host of Circulation On The Run (Podcast).

Importantly, I am a proud Singaporean — born and bred here, leaving only after medical school, residency and cardiology specialisation in Singapore, to go to the US for training in advanced cardiology and heart failure (Mayo Clinic), before returning to Singapore on the National Medical Research Council Clinician Scientist Award in 2010. The “clinician” part of me is a Senior Consultant cardiologist and the Director of the Women’s Heart Clinic at the National Heart Centre Singapore; while the “scientist” part of me is a Professor of Duke-NUS and the Director of Clinical Trials running trials across Asia and globally. Clinical trials are my passion — they constitute the necessary step that closes the gap between scientific discoveries at the lab and improving patients’ outcomes at the bedside.

Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?

Things stayed on course for me pre- and post- baby, thanks to great support at home and at work. Case in point: I was 4 months pregnant during the filming of the 2014 season of Body & Soul, and the entire MediaCorp crew was extremely helpful in keeping me fed and choosing the right clothes and filming angles! I was running the Women’s Heart Clinic as a Senior Consultant and my clinical research programs as an Associate Professor before pregnancy, and worked till Kuan popped out 🙂 During my maternity leave, my clinics took a 4-month pause but my research programs continued to run, and technology became my best friend (colleagues grew used to hearing a baby coo during our conference calls).

I took the opportunity to equip myself with non-medical skills during my maternity leave, and graduated from the Executive Program at Stanford Business School during this time (nursing Kuan between classes!). It was also during my maternity leave that I wrote my PhD and defended it at University Medical Centre Groningen the following year (also with Kuan in attendance). After returning from maternity leave, clinics re-opened and I was promoted to Director of the Women’s Heart Clinic a year later, became a tenured full Professor and now Director of Clinical Trials this year. Reflecting, although in many ways life seemed simpler before I had a baby, in many ways life is even simpler after Kuan, because my priorities have become more sharply focused, thus making decisions easier.

An obvious example is my travel schedule: I used to accept overseas speaking roles quite readily but am now highly selective and have made a personal commitment to keep my trips short. Even now, I am answering this question while on the redeye back from Shanghai after a great day’s work with my Chinese partners, on the same plane that took me to Shanghai barely 24 hours earlier, just so that I can get home for my good morning kiss!

How did you develop an interest in women’s cardiovascular disease?

It was impossible to ignore the #1 killer among women (heart disease) when I was seeing its effects first hand as a cardiologist, and quickly realizing the lack of awareness among both patients and doctors regarding its importance. The clincher came when my own mom (herself a doctor!) also developed heart disease but didn’t realize its danger and ended up fainting in her clinic from irregular heart rhythm. Scared me half to death! So it was simply a case of “something needs to be done”, and if not me, then who?

Why should mamas get involved in Singapore’s landmark Women’s Heart Health Programme?

Because heart disease is our top killer, because much can be done to prevent it or treat it early, because we are obsessed with “bikini medicine” (breasts and gynecological issues), and often ignore our hearts.

How did you get back into the swing of things after having a child?
By not getting off the swing in the first place.

How do you maintain an identity separate from your child?
Kuan makes this easy for me – he’s too strong-willed and independent to let his mommy share/steal his identity… … so I’m forced to keep mine.

How has having a child changed the way you define work?
Having a child certainly made me realize I never again would waste precious moments of life on things that I didn’t love. I do love my work! I learned to say no to the things I didn’t love.

How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
By working in tight bubbles of ultra-focus. That’s really hard in this day and age of technology and connectivity, but all the more needed.

I wish I had more time for…

I always feel saner after….

Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
– where else but Singapore can we head out to a warm pool at any time of the year?

Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?
My mom’s place!

Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
Singapore – honestly, sometimes we just don’t appreciate home enough

Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
High heels and La Perla go a long way 😉

Favourite date night restaurants?
Those with vegetarian omakase and great wine!

Do you have any tips for working mamas in Singapore?
Ask for help when you need it – we’re really blessed in Singapore to have all sorts of options for home help and childcare!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?

Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
It’s ok to makes mistakes.

As a mama I wish I were better at…
Seriously, my son is the only human being on earth who tolerates my cooking (and only because he’s too young to know better).

What’s your favourite family ritual?
Movie nights at home.

I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
How grateful I am for love and life.

My favourite moment of the day is…
Kissing my boys good morning and good night… .. Muaks! Mmmm

Thank you so much to Carolyn and her family for spending time with us! And many thanks to the fabulous Irina Nilsson Photography for the fun and fantastic snaps!

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